What will it take to lead the future of work?

21st May 2016

Enabling organisations to adapt to the fast rate of change in the world requires leaders to keep abreast of the latest in organisational thinking. Recently, a panel of experts spoke at the Future of Work conference in Melbourne to answer a question: what will it take to lead the future of work?

Put the ‘human’ back in HR

The human resources departments of the world suffer from an image problem. They’re often at the pointy end of change management and too often their roles focus on the ‘resources’ side of HR. Indeed, there’s little room there for the ‘human’.

Dale Fisher, CEO of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, believes HR departments need to be empowered to change their focus because “most HR people are not comfortable in the people side of the business”.

Simone Carroll, general manager of people and brand at the REA Group, agrees. “HR isn’t strategic enough.” She believes that HR managers need to invest more in the industry they’re in and get involved in the conversation. “HR is on the value-creation side, not the bean-counting side.”

Deb Eckersley, managing partner of PwC’s Human Capital, says that HR must understand the business. “Don’t be afraid to be the voice of your people.”

Soften skills

On the topic of what PwC looks for in the next generation of workers, Eckersley says that while her organisation values traditional technical skills and academic acumen, it’s the soft skills – communication, language, personal conduct, friendliness, leadership and other interpersonal skills not normally taught to graduates – that it has come to value most in its workforce.

Embrace failure

The value of failure or learning from our mistakes has yet to gain traction in our work culture, yet experts agree that organisations must learn to value it as a tool. Fisher noted that organisations should “treat failure as a friend” and an opportunity to improve. “It’s important that failure is structured into an organisation,” she continued.

And it’s refreshing to think that a results-driven organisation such as PwC places emphasis on its employees merely having a go at something. Eckersley offered this powerful advice to those who’ve never considered that it’s okay to have a go and fail: “Failure is part of success over the longer term.”

Reinvent the organisation

Organisations must reinvent themselves if they are to make and adequately resource these fundamental changes. Carroll is a proponent of disrupted thinking and her advice to leaders of organisations is to “get out of self [and] create a case for change”.

The panel agreed that even small businesses can take lessons from this message of disruption. Dan Swinney, executive director at Manufacturing Renaissance, says that while smaller, risk-averse enterprises may shy away from reinvention, there’s power in numbers. “A network of smaller, networked companies are powerful. Public policy should enable that networking.”

Eckersley also noted that publicly available incentives are a good way to enable change. However, they’re often left to larger organisations because they have the knowledge and means to leverage them. She encouraged small enterprises to discover them for themselves – the R&D Tax Incentive is a classic example.

Rock the boat

Repositioning human resources, recognising the value of soft skills, championing failure and reinventing the organisation are only possible if the leadership has an appetite for change. Presidents, CEOs and directors need to be “fire starters; ideas people” who are willing to take companies in new directions, according to Carroll. However, given that leadership responsibility is largely placed with boards and investors, she acknowledged that the distracting “micromanagement of the balance sheet is tempting for market leaders who don’t want to rock the boat”.

With Gen X pushing baby boomers into retirement and Gen Y knuckling down for the long run, the workforce faces the biggest generational shift since the early ’90s. Leading that future of work will be defined by a new set of parameters that embrace change and, most importantly, focus on people as humans rather than numbers.

To learn more, view our free SlideShare to discover the influence generational behaviours and skills will have on work and technology.
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